A 34-year-old English teacher at Davis High School, Kaysville, Utah lost her probable cause motion to dismiss rape charges against her stemming from allegations that she had sex with her 16-year-old student. Brianne Altice (34) argued, as a matter of law, the state had failed to prove essential elements of the case against her. Although she has purportedly admitted having sex with the student, she argued that he was the aggressor, and the student simply wore her out to the point where she submitted to the sexual acts; legally she claimed, the state failed to establish that she held a position of trust with the student and then used that position to exercise “undue influence” over him. The teen had testified at an earlier hearing that the two met at a church parking lot before school to have sex. The state alleges that she had sexual relations with the student on multiple occasions from January to September 2013. At the contested hearing, the state argued that, as a teacher, Altice had ample opportunities and capability to exercise “undue influence” over the student. The court agreed. She is charged with three counts of felony rape and one count of felony forcible sodomy. She has another court hearing scheduled for August 8th and a potential trial date of September 15th, 2014.
COMMENT: Utah law makes it illegal for a person to have sexual relations with someone under 18 while that person occupies a position of special trust in relation to the victim. Position of special trust means that position occupied by a person in a position of authority who by reason of that position, is able to exercise undue influence over the victim and includes teachers, babysitters, adult coaches and other similar positions expressly set forth in the Utah code or otherwise actually construed to be within the category (In other words, just because the “position” is not specifically named in the statute, a person may nevertheless be deemed actually to be in a position of authority). Such statutory provisions are standard among the states with varying differences.
Although Altice has lost a pretrial motion to dismiss, these issues may be brought before the jury. She could argue that all the sex acts were not related to her position and occurred at a time when she was not exercising her special position of trust at the precise time when the acts occurred. If she were not permitted to make these arguments, the statute would strongly appear to be of the absolute liability type, and under these circumstances, at variance with due process of law. Take for example the “Magician who teaches young boys magic. If he were to have sex with a person at a social event away from his teaching facility, he likely would not be deemed to be in a special position of trust at the time. In the case above, if the sex acts did occur away from the school (church parking lot), the argument could be made she was not in a position of trust at the time of the acts.
UPDATE AND COMMENT
Lawyers for Brianne Altice have filed motions to have one charge dismissed against her as a matter of law and to have one of the joined charges separated from the others. In new documents filed with the court, the lawyers are contending that the defendant would be unfairly prejudiced by the joinder of all the cases in a single trial; in other words, she thinks the cases should be severed and tried separately. In many instances, the courts require that separate offenses must be part of a single behavioral incident and not just a common plan; the issue is a question of prejudice. Were there separate victims” Did the crimes occur at the same place and close in time? In a serial killing case, the Minnesota Supreme Court found that joinder was improper where the case involved two separate victims at different times and places. It is hard to defend a client when the state is permitted to throw multiple allegations before the jury in hopes of getting a conviction. Joinder, in this case, does not appear proper. Although it could be argued that the question of whether Ms. Altice was in a position of authority, or held a special position of trust, at the time of the acts, is a fact question for the jury or judge, the better decision would be to dismiss the charges against Altice if the clear testimony of the “victim” is that her teacher status had nothing to do with the acts. The real policy behind such acts is to protect students from teachers who are using their position to cause or coerce the student to submit to the sexual act- that does not appear to be the case here.
Update: September 7, 2017
Altice was denied parole after breaking down in tears while trying to explain how she lost sight of her values.
Update: JULY 13, 2015
Judge Thomas Kay sentenced Brianne Altice (36) to 2-30 years in prison after she pled guilty to three counts of criminal sexual conduct stemming from her involvement with 3 of her students. According to the Salt Lake Tribune “Kay emphasized that he was not handing down the harsh sentence “for the press,” adding that he thinks the news media “are a distraction” and should not be allowed in court when someone’s life and liberty are at stake”.
It was not immediately clear when Ms. Altice will be eligible for probation. However, the sentence was clearly harsh.
UPDATE: 4/23/15 Brianne Altice (35) pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree felony sexual abuse counts in connection with this case. Although no plea deal was reached regarding the sentence, Altice was initially charged with multiple counts of first-degree sexual crimes that carried potential sentences of up to life in prison. The sentencing range for the second-degree counts is 1-15 years. Sentencing is set for May 28. Altice remains in custody pending sentencing.
COMMENT: It appears that both sides wanted to end this case in a judicious manner. A previous ruling by the court that some of the charges warranted separate trials likely influenced the negotiations. We understand that the court denied a defense request to release the defendant from custody pending sentencing. We think this ruling actually benefits her because her custody status will likely prevent her from getting into any more trouble before she is sentenced, and this should positively impact any defense motion for a downward disposition in sentencing.